While mother-to-child and adult HIV/AIDS transmission rates have both been on the decrease, the fight against the deadly disease remains as challenging as ever. Tuesday 1 December marked World AIDS Day – a day important for reflecting on South Africa’s HIV/AIDS crisis.
With more than 3 million South Africans already receiving treatment for HIV, the amount of new infections amongst citizens aged 15-24 has seen an alarming increase, more so on the side of women and girls.
Siraaj Adams, GM of the HIV YourLife programme at Metropolitan Health Risk Management says a sense of complacency is setting in around risk prevention, particularly amongst the country’s young adult population.
“That may have worked against us in the fact that people are no longer using protective measures such as condoms or having on partner. I think we still have some way to go,” he highlights.
“South Africa still has a large amount of people on treatment so we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the shoulder, as we still have a long way to go towards changing people’s behaviour around the risks.”
Despite the damning statistics at present, Adams says the idea of an “HIV negative generation” is imminent; the possible success of preventing transmissions from mother-to-child could lead to an HIV free generation amongst new-born babies.
“The positive should be taken in context; we will definitely see an improvement in new-born (infections). You will have a generation up to 15 that will be HIV negative which I think is definitely something to be proud of. The problem is the teenage population seems to be where we are falling short,” he explains.
The rollout of anti-retroviral drugs has significantly increased within the last seven to eight years from 800 000 to 3 million people now on treatment. Adams acknoledges the treatment is being viewed as an effective manner in which to prevent the infection from spreading. In this regard he praised the attitude of the South African government towards tackling the disease.
“The minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi’s has significantly increased the access points (to treatment) like ART clinics, his up-scaled nurses to be able to start treatment, and that has had a major impact in getting us from 800 000 to 3.6 Million,” he notes.
US actor Charlie Sheen’s recent admission that he has been HIV-positive for the last four years has brought into focus the fact that it is a disease that can affect anyone. Moreover, Sheen’s announcement has re-opened the channels of discussion around HIV/AIDS – among others, highlighting that the disease can be managed and people with HIV/AIDS can live full, healthy lives. However, there is still a lack of education around the disease and a corresponding stigma that needs to be lifted.
In an effort to break the stigma of HIV/AIDS in communities, Metropolitan is sponsoring OneVoice South Africa (OVSA), an NPO which aims to educate young people about the importance of supporting those who are living with HIV – often, it is stigma that prevents people from getting clinical help early on. OVSA’s theme for World Aids Day 2015 is “Zero Stigma, Zero Discrimination” and they will be targeting communities in Inanda, Waterloo and Umlazi. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)